She pitches and… scores?

light, tunnel?

I have been working on my novel pitch. I expect to use the pitch for my back cover material and as the ‘product description’ for online vendors. This is important, especially at the outset and before there are many reviews, because the cover and the pitch are the two pieces of information that will be available to help readers decide if they want to read STOLEN CLIMATES. You all have been helpful in giving me suggestions, but I would like to acknowledge Meg, Paul and Nick for their specific contributions. I think I have something that incorporates all of the good bits from the 5-sentence pitches and cuts out the wordiness of my initial attempt. Please drop me a comment and let me know what you think! Without further ado or any more of my agonizing, here is the revised pitch:

Genny thought her hallucinations were from lack of sleep. Then her daughter started hearing the trees talking, too. Now they are being hunted by a cult who wants to use them in a deadly ritual to ensure the continuation of ancient ways. Their only hope of escape is a single ax and an acquaintance with his own set of debilitating issues. As Summer Solstice nears, carnivorous vines grow out of control, the sacred orchard dies of blight, and it isn’t safe after dark.

Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.

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The Moon and the Runner’s Lie

Part Four

How to Complete a Novel

my moon!

I am 34 years, 7 months and 7 days old.  In my lifetime, the moon has passed through her phases approximately 451 times. As a child, the moon followed me everywhere. It didn’t matter if I was in the United States or somewhere in Germany, the moon was always chasing along behind me. As an adolescent, I appreciated the light of a full moon, but came to understand the regenerative power of the solitary darkness represented by the new moon. As a woman, I learned to correlate my body’s moods and cravings with the moon. As a dog owner, I learned that it is true what they say: dogs do howl at a full moon. They howl, they bark, and they mistakenly think it is breakfast time at 3AM. As a dreamer, I imagine going to the moon. I imagine that I can breathe there, that there is the perfect still like that experienced during the early morning hours after a tremendous snow storm. As a writer, I track the moon’s passage across the bit of sky I can see from my writing desk. I say hello to the moon whenever I see her, even if there are other people around and especially if she is making her crossing during the daylight hours.

The moon and I, we go way back.

Back even to that once upon a time when I was a distance runner. When you run more than six or seven miles, especially if you are a slow runner like I was, you learn that there are certain things you must take into account. First, you need to refuel: liquids, simple sugars.  Second, you need a way to keep yourself going when it gets boring or tough. I found that by combining the two needs, I could break a long run into smaller segments that gave me something close enough to attain and far enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.  When I completed a segment, there was the reward of fuel. On days when I felt strong and light, that was enough. On bad days when it felt like an impossible effort to go a mile, let alone ten, the segments were too far apart to keep desperation from setting in; I had to come up with another tactic. That is when I learned to lie to myself.

Surprised? I was, too. Both that I could be so convincing and that it would work. Before I describe my technique,  I want to note that none of this applies if you are sick or injured! Unless you are being chased by some terribly trite horror movie villain,  push through discomfort but stop if you feel pain. Otherwise, go ahead and lie to yourself. Tell yourself that you only have to run to the next stop sign and that once you get there, you can walk the rest of the way. If you have to, promise yourself that when you get to the stop sign, you never have to run again, period. Then, when you get to the sign, check in with your body. Is it complaining, or is it just your will that’s flagging? If your body still feels strong, lie again. Tell yourself you only have to make it to your next refueling station, and then you can quit for the day. Lie, run, repeat until you cross the finish line. I logged hundreds of miles using this technique. It’s useful for other tedious tasks, too, like reformatting the chapters in your book in preparation for print or making it through reading a novel you don’t love, but want to finish because you appreciate what the author is trying to do.

In the first post of this series, we began by visualizing the final phase of the writing project. Then we shared our dream with others and negotiated the time and space in which to complete our work. Now it is time to define intermediate phases that give you something to work towards and that you can use as a lifeline. You can base project phases, or milestones, on word count, pages, chapters, scenes or whatever works best to motivate you. Once you decide on the ‘phases,’ choose  a way to reward yourself. Although you can, you don’t have to pick the actual form of the reward at the outset; just commit to doing something to celebrate the completion of each phase. I like to choose my reward when I reach the milestone, mostly because my desires and moods are mercurial! White wine sounds good now, but I might want beer by the time I finish the next three chapters! If writing to the end of the first phase seems daunting, employ a variant of the runner’s lie and tell yourself you only have to write one chapter. If that is overwhelming, tell yourself you only have to write one paragraph. If it seems like the pressure to write a perfect first sentence is overwhelming, tell yourself you’re just penning a  practice sentence, and don’t have to consider it the one, true First Sentence. Tell yourself whatever you have to in order to get yourself writing. You’ll reach your milestones and get pretty good at coming up with delectable rewards, too!

As you may have guessed, the fourth suggestion of How to Complete a Novel is:

Define Milestone Events

No matter how monolithic a project appears, it can always be broken into phases. In writing a novel, you can define initial phases by draft. Later phases might include getting a copy edit, working with a cover designer, or sending agent queries. Decide in advance what you want to consider a milestone event. It relieves a lot of psychological pressure if you can focus on a smaller goal with a shorter in timeframe that won’t overwhelm or discourage you.

Check back soon for another post in my ‘How to Complete A Novel’ series!

 

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Balance Through Compromise

Part Three

How to Complete a Novel

Are you a hermit, gone to live on your mountaintop? Do you have unlimited time, a trust fund, and a significant other willing to appear for scheduled conjugal visits, then disappear until next time you send out the passenger pigeon from your mountaintop? If so, this post isn’t for you.

from the mountaintop, with love

Image via Wikipedia

However, if you happen to be more like me, you should keep reading. My time to write is constrained by the many facets of my life. I used to be consumed by resentment that I could not allocate the time I wanted, when I wanted, to whatever I wanted. Years of frustration gave way to simple acceptance: I am not constrained by the richness and variety of my life. I am liberated by it! My job exercises my intellect and my compassion far more than either could be if I were alone on my mountaintop. Home ownership has given me responsibility and forced me to discover the joy in caring for a place that is my own. My marriage has brought me clarity, comfort, laughter, and a shared history that grows more evocative as time passes. My writing has given me access to noumenal, intransitive truths.  I love all of these facets, but that doesn’t make it easy to find and maintain balance.

When we first moved into our home, I was overwhelmed. The sheer space was magnitudes bigger than any place we had lived before; mind you, we bought conservatively, but even a small house is a big thing when compared to a one room apartment! I felt like I couldn’t balance all of the chores, and the yard work, and the grocery shopping, and the dog walks, and my job, and my marriage, and the fact that ceiling fans somehow gather monstrous amounts of dust even when they are in use.  My stress was squeezing the companionship and fun out of my marriage, guttering my inner light, and stealing energy I could have used to write. My husband diagnosed the root of my problem:  I was trying to do everything, all of the time. I also wasn’t writing, which has an inverse relationship with my mood. We came up with a plan of action that divided what needed to be done into manageable blocks of work.  We closed off the section of the house we never even use, and he began to help me with chores I had always done alone simply because they were trivial in a small apartment (floors! Who knew there would be so much of them in a house?!).  I have even learned how to let inessential things slide.  I trained myself to recognize what needs to be done, and to do only that instead of following some preconceived list that I had in my mind. I let the situation dictate what amount of cleaning is done rather than stick to a rigid set of tasks.  You may be skeptical, but I promise that you and your family will be OKAY even if you don’t steam clean the rugs every week.

The same sort of battles occur in every facet of life. Work is an expanding protoplasm of unending tasks, but if you are firm in separating work from home, you will prevent it from overtaking your entire life. Say no to getting work emails on your phone. Say no to weekend ‘extras.’ Say no to late evenings that prevent you from exercising. Will you be on the fast track to the top of the corporate ladder? Probably not. But is that what you want? If it is, you and the hermit are both reading the wrong blog! Do the best that you can while you are there, practice kindness in the face of stress (easier said than done, but try!), and enjoy the time you get to spend with people you might otherwise have never known. Then clock out, head home, and focus on the other parts of your life. Your writing, for instance!

And now, I gracefully segue into the Third Tip in the “How To Complete a Novel” series…

Negotiation

If you’re married or  have room mates, you will need to negotiate for dedicated and uninterrupted time to spend working on your novel.  Begin by opening a dialog about the realistic time expenditure writing will require, and acknowledge that some of the time you will put into the novel will have to be taken from time you would have otherwise spent together.  If you know you can only write when it is quiet, discuss sound management techniques.  Ask for permission to ask for help if you fall behind in your household chores.  Note that I said ask for help, not demand!  Do not allow yourself to ask for help to the extent that it becomes an ongoing sloughing off of your duties onto someone else.  The people you love and live with have dreams of their own; don’t steal time from their pursuits unless you really must, and then make sure you return the favor.  No matter what chore exchange you negotiate, make sure you leave enough time to strengthen the bonds that gave you the gift of this person in your life.  Sure, you can dream alone, but it’s much more satisfying to dream together.

Check back soon for another post in my ‘How to Complete A Novel’ series!

 

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